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Ghost old style MFM interface hard drive to IDE hard drive

Posted on 2006-07-12
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Last Modified: 2007-12-19
I have a client with an ancient PC running a court reporting verticle application on a MFM hard drive interface under MS-DOS 5.00  The application vendor has long since gone out of business and is not available for support.  It is my understanding that the software is first installed on the hard drive via an installation routine.  Then the support staff would provide some numbers to type in to a setup routine that stores data on certain cylinders or sectors that the application searches upon startup to prevent the user from pirating the application onto another system.  The software is from Stenocat Corporation.

Changing over to another application is prohibitively expensive (approx $20K) and the learning curve too high so we're stuck with the old software.

The system currently is using a Seagate 80MB ST-4096 MFM interface hard drive.  I was attempting to Ghost the hard drive over to an IDE hard drive to migrate this client onto a new Windows XP Home PC.  I was going to use Microsoft Virtual PC to get the software to run under MS-DOS on the new workstation.  Sounds simple but I am having a heck of a time getting the old MFM hard drive to run on a new workstation to start the process.

The old system has an Everex 16 bit MFM hard drive / floppy drive controller card in an ISA slot.  I tried installing the controller card into a more recent workstation which had both ISA and PCI slots but the system will not boot with the card installed.  I even tried disabling the on board floppy diskette option under the BIOS believing there to be a conflict.  But no good.

I finally located an 8 bit MFM hard drive interface card with no floppy diskette option on Ebay but that doesn't work either.  Card is not recognized by system.  I tried this card in an effort to eliminate the conflict issue with the floppy circuitry.

I was able to perform a DOS based backup to floppy diskette on the old system.  It took 27 floppies.

I then formatted an 18GB IDE hard drive on a new system as FAT32.  System created a 2GB hard drive partition.  I then was successful in running MS-DOS 6.22 setup process to create a bootable DOS 6.22 drive.  I then performed a DOS restore from floppies which unfortunately overlayed MS-DOS 6.22 with MS-DOS 5.00 creating an error message upon boot about incorrect operating system.  I was able to strip out the DOS 6.22 commands from DOS subdirectory.  I then formatted a floppy diskette with the operating system option on the old PC and was able to run a sys command from that to make the new IDE hard drive completely MS-DOS 5.00 compatible to look like the old hard drive.

Believe it or not, the restoration even installed Windows 3.1 on the new hard drive from the backups and it actually ran perfectly.  Wow, it's been a long time since I saw that piece of work!

But unfortunately with I tried to launch the Stenocat software it started, stumbled and came right back to the C: prompt.  I assume it could not find the piracy data.

Can anyone tell me if there is a way to clone that old hard drive with the anti-piracy data intact onto a new hard drive and get this abortion to work?

Any help would be appreciated before I have to give up.  I hate to admit defeat.  It's just not in my nature.

Thanks for your help.

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Question by:StevePimer
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by:simsjrg
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I know VMware makes a product called P2V which takes ANY physical machine and makes it into a Virtual Machine that can run on any physical hardware thats running VMware. There may be a few other applications out there that do the same. This way you can move this onto newer harware.
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by:pgm554
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Well,what I would try is this:

Get a hold of a copy of VMware workstation(30 day eval available from their site)

Get a hold of Gost 9 or above and create an image of the DOS disk.

Import the DOS disk through the Vmware import utility.
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by:StevePimer
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Thanks for the quick reply.  I already have a copy of Norton Ghost 9.0 in stock.  The problem isn't the Ghosting process.  It's getting the old hard drive to run on a new system because of the MFM interface issue.  Has anyone been successful in getting past this issue?  If so, how?

Assuming I can actually get the old MFM drive to run on a new system using some sort of controller card that will support it, can anyone actually tell me if the Ghost image created and finally transferred onto a IDE hard drive will contain the hidden data the application is apparently looking for thus allowing the program to launch?

Thanks for all your help.

Steve
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by:NYtechGuy
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Steve-

Using Ghost, you will get a bit-by-bit and block-by-block copy of the original drive.

/justin
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by:pgm554
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If you have an image file of the disk,then download Vmware WS ,install it and try the import utility.
Vmware is years ahead of M$ Virtual products.
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by:pgm554
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by:DaMaestro
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Minor question, stickler for details...  

I know you mentioned disabling the bios floppy for conflict concerns, but did the MFM card that the system failed to boot with have a jumper for changing it's own interrupt?
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by:knoxzoo
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Have you tried...

Adding an old IDE controller to the old system, putting a cd burner on the new old controller, booting into an older version of Ghost (ver. 8 would be perfect - came with NSW 2003) via floppy, and ghosting the old drive to cd?  

If that works, use two hard drives in the new system, one small, one large.  Make the small one drive 0.  Partition the small one and make the first partition 1gb, fat16, the other partition can be one big one and whatever file system you want.  Ghost your image to the little partion you made, then install XP.  When you get to the part where you choose what drive to install on, chose drive 1, the second and larger drive.  That'll give you a DOS compliant drive, with your software installed and ready to run, and a full XP install.  Both should be bootable, but it will also allow you to run the old stuff in your virtual machine.

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by:pgm554
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So you want to add an MFM controller to a newer system with ISA slots?
Is your MFM controller 8 or 16 bit?
If 16 bit ,you would probably need to configure the ISA slot in which is it configured to match the IRQ that the MFM controller is configured for.
That would be done through the system BIOS.
I would look at using 10,11,or 12.
15 may be OK,but I would try 10,11,or 12 first.

If you are using 8 bit ,your choices become much more limited.  

It's been a long time since I've messed with ISA and jumoered IRQ's.
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by:pgm554
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If I remember correctly ,some old copy protection scheme wrote to a hidden cylinder on the disk,so it may be in vain.
Just out of curiosity,do you have the original install disks?

What you had to do to install from one system to another,was to insert the "key"disk into the old machine and uninstall the old key back to the key disk.

That would allow you to reinstall to another system using the saved key disk.

You also need to realize that that old of a program may not recognize FAT 32 ,so FAT 16 would be your only choice.

Also your partition size becomes limited to about 2 gigabytes.
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by:rid
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I think you may have a problem if the software indeed uses direct sector access for anti-piracy measures. Even if you did clone/ghost/copy the drive to a new drive, the addressing system will probably be different between the drives and the software will get nowhere with a cylinder/head/sector read command - the new drive will simply not have the same addressing system.

Having an IDE and a MFM controller in the same system should be possible, but you need to make sure they don't clash in the I/O address and IRQ spaces - probably jumper settings on the controllers. Also, the BIOS might get confused as to which is supposed to be a boot drive... It'll be like haveing an IDE and a SCSI controller in the same system... Usually, the IDE drive will be preferred as a boot device and the SCSI units come in as secondary devices. I assume you will have to work with an oldish motherboard for this exercise.

Do you have the original install media, so you can try installing on an IDE-based machine?
/RID
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by:StevePimer
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Thanks for all the quick responses.  After more discussions with the client she advises me that the sequence is as follows for the Stenocat court reporting software setup:
1. Install from floppies.
2. Upon completion of installation a program runs automatically prompting the user to call Stenocat tech support.
3. Screen displays a multi digit number which user relays to tech support.
4. Tech support tells the user to enter another reply number.
5. Screen then displays another number which user tells tech support.
6. Tech support gives user a final number which when entered unlocks the software.

I don't know nor does the user just how this process actually prevents piracy.  It could be sector or cylinder schemes and then it could not.

If anyone recognizes this type of copy protection scheme and can shed some light on the process and how to circumvent it I would surely appreciate it.  We are not trying to pirate the software since it will only be running on a replacement system not multiple systems.  But with the firm out of business we're stuck with the normal setup routine.

I am currently in the process of trying to secure an ISA style MFM interface hard drive controller board that does not have floppy diskette drive circuitry built in along with some documentation as to how to setup any jumpers so it doesn't conflict with the current installation of any (including IDE) devices.

Hopefully the scheme used for copy protection does not include specific sectors or cylinders or a hidden sector process.

Hopefully with that accomplished I can Ghost the old drive and bit transfer the setup to another IDE hard drive to test everything.

If that all works I should be able to create a virtual machine using Microsoft Virtual Machine software on the new system hard drive and reimage the Ghost image over that.

I'll let you all know how it turns out.

Once again, thanks.

Steve
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by:pgm554
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Instructions for having two controllers in same system:

Generic Second Controller Installation:
1) Normally the MFM/IDE/RLL controller is set up as the primary, and the ESDI/SCSI as the secondary; One reason for this is because the ESDI/SCSI controller cards are usually more flexible in their set up and secondly this method seems to work (probably due to reason one).

2) Your primary controller is set up using all the normal defaults:
- Floppy at primary address(3F0-3F7).
- Hard disk enabled, at primary addresses (1F0-1F7),
BIOS address C800 and interrupt 14.

3) Your secondary controller is set up as:
- Floppy drives disabled
- Hard disk controller enabled, secondary address(170- 177) and interrupt 15.
- NOTE: onboard bios set to D400, or D800 can be used, if there is a conflict.



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by:StevePimer
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Well, here's the final outcome of this project.  After untold hours trying every possible controller card combination and every jumper setting available I finally had to give up.  I was not able to get the ESDI (MFM) and IDE controller cards running together in the same system.

I was able to perform a floppy diskette based (27 disks) backup of the original hard drive.  I then took an IDE hard drive and partitioned it to 2GB using Fdisk.  I then formatted the drive using DOS 6.00 (only version I had around).  I then restored the diskettes onto the IDE drive but ended up with a mixed operating system (5.22 and 6.00).  I was able to strip out all the 6.00 stuff and sys C: to overlay the hidden boot files.  The system thinks it's the other drive.  Everything works including Windows 3.00 on the new IDE drive.  But the Stenocat software starts to load then drops back to the C: prompt.

The user told me that the technicians at Stenocat told her before they went out of business to "NEVER OPTIMISE" the hard drive.  That tells me that certain sectors are hard coded during the installation "launch code" routine.

Given that scenario I don't believe the software will ever run on any other except possibly an identical Seagate ST-4096 unit with no bad sectors.  It would have to be identical to the original drive.  But then you're back to the same problem of trying to do a bit level copy (clone) and still running the old ESDI drive in a new system with an IDE drive or SATA drive under Windows XP.  Kind of a catch 22.

In thirty years in the computer business I have only had to give up on 2 projects.  That's not bad.

I guess the user is going to have to hope the system never dies until she retires or shell out some money and purchase a new software package.

Thanks again for all the help.

I would request the the points be split evenly between all participants since all responses were timeley and accurate.
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rid earned 500 total points
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I do think that the IDE + MFM controller issue can be solved, but it may be depending on the system and other factors that can be hard to pinpoint. The stumbling block looks to me to be the archaic software, more specifically its anti-piracy system. If you want to split points, you do it yourself, using the links/buttons provided for accepting comments as answers at the lower part of the page you have.

Cheers
/RID
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